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Original Title:
Henjelgwa Geuretel

South Korea 2007

Fantasy, Horror, Drama

Lim Pil-sung

Cheon Jeong-myeong
Sim Eun-kyung
Eun Won-jae
Jin Ji-hee
Park Hee-soon
Park Lydia
Jang Young-nam
Kim Kyeong-ik
Ko Joon-hee

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Hansel and Gretel

Story: During a car drive Eun-soo (Cheon Jeong-myeong) argues with his girl-friend on the phone. He loses control over his car and it spins over several times. As Eun-soo regains consciousness, he is completely disoriented and starts wandering through the woods to look for help, as his cell doesn't get a signal anymore. He meets the girl Young-hee (Sim Eun-kyung), who leads him deep into the woods to her home. Arriving there, he also meets the girl's parents and the girl's brother and sister. But something seems to be wrong with the family and the house. The colorful furnishing, the ever so happy family and the fact that the phone in the house doesn't work, start to make Eun-soo suspicious. Nevertheless, he has to stay the night at this place. But it is not going to be his last night. Even with the directions he was given, he doesn't find his way out of the forest but always ends up coming back to this fairytale house. Eventually Eun-soo wakes up and finds a letter from the parents, saying that he is supposed to look after the kids for a few days. But did the parents really just go away, or did maybe something completely different happen to them? As the kids seem to be behaving quite strangely, Eun-soo sets out to unfold a terrible secret.

Review: For most people, fairytales are just some bedtime stories you read to your children. A wonderful colored world, where there is always a "happily ever after" waiting for the protagonist. No wonder that most film adaptations of famous fairytales end up looking like kids' movies. But everybody who has ever read the original versions of the Grimm Brothers' fairytales, will notice that those had actually quiet a dark and nihilistic tone to them. Sadly, there are only a few movies which tried to capture the true essence of those stories and brought them on screen. That this can actually work, was shown quite impressively by Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth". "Hansel and Gretel" chooses a similar direction, but tries to be more colorful, which doesn't mean that it is any less appealing. Even those impressive images alone are reason enough to watch Lim Pil-Sung's second movie after "Antarctic Journal". The plot itself may not be that innovative or exciting, but more to the point, Lim manages to enthrall the audience with the images and the tense atmosphere he creates.

The first shots of the forest, when Eun-soo meets the girl Young-hee, already start to show us what we can expect of the movie's cinematography. Young-hee's lantern bathes the dense and dreamy forest in a warm light, which evokes a comfortable and yet gloomy feeling. When we then see the house on a green clearance surrounded by trees, we actually believe we are in a fairytale. But that's not where the visuals draw the line. Inside the house, everything is bathed in incredibly bright and intense colors, which leaves you with the impression to actually enter a kid's dream. There are little cupcakes and cookies for breakfast and the kid's run about in clothes so cute, that you think, you get a glimpse of a perfect but yet artificial family life, which just can not exist in real life. But why is everything this colorful and peaceful? Needless to say that this peace can not be trusted and that all those colors are used to disguise the darkness, which obviously just slumbers somewhere under the surface.

It is just impossible to explain, how much you tend to observe all those little eye-catchers in "Hansel and Gretel". Nothing is left to chance, every set looks as if carefully worked on them for months. As soon as you read who has been involved in the film-making process, it is obvious why. Kim Ji-yong, who has already worked on "A Bittersweet Life", was responsible for the cinematography, and together with productions-designer Ryu Seong-hie ("Oldboy", "The Host", "Memories of Murder") he creates something truly impressive. Even the visual effects are very powerful. Furthermore there are some camera angles and movements which underline the movie's technical cleverness and superiority even more.
A dark attic changing into a labyrinth, a door on top of a clearance in the woods, whatever image you want to point out, it is just incredible how much work they put into "Hansel and Gretel". And it was worth it, because the movie's atmosphere is one of its best qualities.

Unfortunately, it really needs this atmospheric quality, because story-wise the movie has just not that much to offer. Sure, the plot is not that bad, but most of it, you will already have seen in a typical horror movie. The fact that it is about child-abuse and even about a pseudo-religious cult, may give the movie more depth, especially as the moral or message, which you can find in every fairytale, comes out more clearly in this way, but the story is still in the back seat and is just too average as to really enthrall the audience. Moreover, the movie's ending just drags on forever and despite of all the emotions it can evoke, it still has a bad aftertaste.
Unfortunately, the leading actor Cheon Jeong-myeong ("Les Formidables") can't really convince with his performance. The audience sees the movie more or less completely through his eyes, but he fails to show character. A typical problem of the horror genre.

But it is still important to point out, that "Hansel and Gretel" is no real horror movie as such. It is more like a fantasy-thriller with some dramatic elements in it. There's no such thing as a heart-stopping-moment, just some scenes, which try to create more suspense. What the movie is really about, are the kids, which stand at the brink of adulthood and are being disappointed or abused by grown-ups at this particularly complicated phase of their life. It's the relation that children have to adults, which stands in the foreground. Therefore the stars of the movie are clearly the young actors, who deliver a stunning performance. Sim Eun-kyeong ("The Legend" aka "The Four Gods") impresses as a gracious and innocent little girl, foreshadowing a dark past and Jin Ji-hee convinces as the cute but yet menacing girl. It's always astonishing to see, how many talented young actors Korea has to offer.
"Hansel and Gretel" is a movie which has nothing ground-breaking to offer, story-wise, and which unfortunately also disappoints in some other areas, as well. But all this fades away, if you see the breath-taking pictures and the tense atmosphere. If you are ready to be captivated by this atmosphere, you will be immensely awarded by Lims work. Everyone else should just enjoy the pictures.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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